Jesus and Paul




It is incontrovertible that the discussion on the message of Jesus and Paul is a highly debated area in biblical scholarship. The pendulum swings from the phrase ‘Jesus or Paul’ to ‘Jesus and Paul?’ When Paul made ethical pronouncement such as “Bless those who persecute you” (Rom. 12:14), why didn’t he cite the authority of Jesus (Matt. 5:10-12)? When Paul says in Romans 8:26, “we do not know what we ought to pray for”, does this mean he was unaware that Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer to his disciples (Matt. 6:9-13) and Luke 11:2-4)? Those who claim that Paul takes up an independent attitude towards Jesus would hastily conclude that they had a different message, a discovery I view as misleading. I support the viewpoint that “Paul’s understanding of God is completely in line with Jesus’ teaching” (Bruce 1977, 19)


A question scholars who believe that the messages are different normally ask is “why did Paul on page after page, in paragraph after paragraph appeal to the words of Jesus as authority for what he was advocating?” (Sandmel 1979, 107). They view it as incredible for Paul to give only one quotation from the statements believed to have been made by who is jesus namely, His opposition to divorce. Why did he neglect the parables, aphorisms and annunciations of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Some like A.N. Wilson have even claimed that it was Paul, and not Jesus, who founded Christianity. But how does this thesis, which in various forms has been debated for over a century, stand up?

Wright (2001) in his book What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity leads readers through current scholarly discussion of Paul and gives a devastating critique of views like Wilson’s, showing that they fail to take account of all the evidence. Wilson (a journalist and biographer) dismisses Christianity as an unhappy accident, the product of a radical party based on Greek rationalism and partly on Jewish mysticism. Wilson fails in three areas – historical, theological and exegetical. The greatest value of Wright’s work is that it clarifies and successfully defends the orthodox position as the only true one. Indeed Paul was not the founder of Christianity, rather a faithful witness and herald of Jesus Christ. Although it is realistic however to observe that without Paul “Christianity would probably never have survived” (Grant 1982, 1), it is misleading to call him its founder.

Wenham (1985) in his book Paul: Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity provides a broad look at the relationship between Paul and Jesus. Considering the recurrent position of how much Paul knew and was dependent on the teachings of Jesus, he studies the Gospels and Paul’s letters, systematically compares the teachings of Jesus and Paul, and convincingly reveals intriguing connections between them.

Furthermore, Wenham (1995) builds on this study in another text, Paul and Jesus: The True Story, writing against the view that Paul is a religious freelancer who corrupted Jesus’ teachings. Writing in dialogue with those who wish to distance Paul from Jesus, he shows the importance the ministry and teachings of Jesus were to Paul’s own thought. Indeed, what emerges from a study of Paul’s epistles is a man who drew extensively on the traditions of Jesus and faithfully worked to spread his message to the rest of the world. Although Paul never saw Jesus during his life on earth, Lahaye (1997) aptly noted that “his writings show he was thoroughly familiar with the life of Jesus of Nazareth many years before the Gospels were ever written” (103).

Perhaps no contemporary evangelical scholar is better equipped like Bruce to refute the claim by liberal scholars that Paul represented a departure from that of Jesus. Bruce (1974) is among those scholars to delineate Paul’s teaching (distinguishing between those elements Paul received directly from God and those that he received from Christian tradition) and demonstrating that the ways of salvation to which Paul and Jesus pointed were identical in essence. The beauty of the argument is in its apt summary:

Paul agrees with the outline which we find elsewhere in the New Testament, and in the four gospels in particular. Paul himself is at pains to point out that the Gospel which he preached was basically one and the same as that preached by other apostles (1Cor. 15:11), a striking claim if we consider that Paul was neither a companion of the earthly Jesus nor of the original apostles, and that he vigorously asserts his complete independence of these later(Bruce 1974, 20)

The above quotation is so central to the viewpoint of the writer that he quotes it verbatim on page 94 of another publication (Bruce 2000). Some portions of his book, A Mind for What Matters, could be sees as a “protest against the tendency to represent Paul as having no interest in himself in the character and teaching of the historical Jesus, and as depreciating any such interest on the part of the others” (Bruce 1990, 114).

Many other writers echo Bruce in several ways. It is incontrovertible that “upon a careful inspection, a fairly full summary of the main contours of Jesus’ life can be pieced together from Paul’s writings” (Blomberg 1997, 379). Among examples cited are His descent from Abraham and David (Gal. 3:16; Rom. 1:3, upbringing of the Jewish Law (Gal. 4), gathering together of His disciples including Peter and John, having a brother named James (Gal. 1:19,29), an impeccable character and exemplary life (Phil 2:6-8), 2 Cor. 8:9; Rom. 15:3,8), the Last Supper and betrayal (I Cor. 11:23-25) and numerous details surrounding his death and resurrection (Gal.3:1, 1 Thes. 2:4-8). These are therefore “some clear indications of Paul’s knowledge of and interest in at least some basic aspects of the historical life and teaching of Jesus” (France 1986, 93).

A closer examination reveals other striking similarities in the messages of Jesus and Paul. Does Romans 12:17-19 contain a cluster of allusions to the Sermon on the Mount and the principles of love? Is Romans 13:7 familiar with Jesus’ famous teaching on paying taxes? These could be answered in the affirmative. I Corinthians contains three direct references: the first is on marriage and divorce (7:10), the second on a worker and his wages (Luke 10:7; 11:23-25) and the third with its detailed knowledge of the teaching of Jesus about the Passover bread and wine (11:23-25). According to Blomberg (1997),

I Thessalonians again contains three clear clusters of references to Jesus’ teachings: 2:14-16 resembles selections of Matthew 23:29-38, with its invective against the Jewish leaders; 4:15-17 refers to a word of the Lord concerning his return and contains several echoes of the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13); and 5:2-4 refers specifically to the Day of the Lord coming like a thief, in dependence on the parable in Matthew 24:43-44 and Luke 12:39-40. More generally, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 refers to belief in a coming AntiChrist reminiscent of Jesus’ teaching about the abomination that causes desolation… (Blomberg 1997, 379).

It is realistic to note that key themes in Paul’s theology, as different as it superficially seems to be from Jesus’ own thought, also suggest stronger lines of continuity. One cannot deny the fact that “the great mind in the New Testament to interpret the meaning of the person and work of Jesus is the converted Jew, Paul” (Ladd 1974, 360). It is also forcefully argued that although “the hardest of direct reference is meager… it is possible to trace many more echoes of themes of Jesus in his (Paul’s) letters” France 1986, 92). Paul’s understanding and proclamation of Jesus Christ did not by-pass the life and character of the One proclaimed as crucified and risen.


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